The World Health Organization has added air pollution to the list of modifiable risk factors for dementia.
When considering potential risk factors for dementia, air quality may not be one that immediately comes to mind. But that’s changing. Researchers around the globe are investigating whether there is a link between air pollution and dementia, and they’re finding some interesting connections.
For example, a 2021 multi-study review by researchers in the Middle East revealed that pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — hidden in the air at less than 2.5 parts per million and found both outdoors and indoors — can cross the blood brain barrier and impact the central nervous system, resulting in cognitive decline and memory dysfunction.
Another study, conducted by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, found that older women who were exposed to environments with the least amounts of two key air pollutants — fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide — were 14 to 16 per cent less likely to develop dementia. Study results, released in January 2022, also noted a boost in cognitive function and memory for these subjects.
How to avoid or reduce harmful pollutants in our air
When it comes to protecting ourselves from outdoor pollutants, it’s important to limit our time spent in toxic air environments, heed the air quality recommendations reported on the weather channel and wear high-quality masks when air is particularly poor.
But what about protecting ourselves from the air pollutants that lurk indoors?
“We spend 90 per cent of our time inside,” says Susan Blanchet, founder and chief executive officer of Victoria-based Origen Air, a company that designs unique air purification systems for the home and office.
Blanchet, whose own father passed away from dementia in 2015, launched Origen Air partly as a way to help optimize both physical and cognitive well-being. “Whatever we can do to collectively curb [dementia], we should be doing,” says Blanchet. “One way is to pay attention to what we cannot see — to our air quality.”
Here, Blanchet provides three of her favourite tips for improving indoor air quality:
Consider hiring an air monitoring company to examine the quality of air in your home. Although these companies may not be able to measure the finest toxic gases or particulates, they will give a broad-stroke assessment, which is a great start.
Try your best to avoid any household practices that reduce air quality, such as using cleaning products containing ammonia and chlorine, which are dangerous at high levels. Note that smoke from wood-burning fireplaces is also harmful, as it contains carbon monoxide.
Check your cooling and heating systems regularly so that the ventilation functions are working efficiently to maintain good air quality. Also, switch out your furnace filters regularly: “If you don’t, it’s like cleaning with a dirty rag,” says Blanchet.
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